World Matchplay darts champion Dimitri Van den Bergh thrilled to defend title at Blackpool
Dimitri Van den Bergh is relishing the defence of his Betfred World Matchplay darts title but doesn’t believe his 2020 success gives him any advantage over the 31 challengers in Blackpool.
That’s because the Belgian has never sampled the unique Winter Gardens atmosphere before – winning the title at the first attempt last year behind closed doors in Milton Keynes.
That was the first time since the launch of the World Matchplay in 1994 that the Professional Darts Corporation’s annual summer showpiece has not been staged in Blackpool’s world famous Empress Ballroom.
The champion, who turned 27 last week, starts his defence against Matchplay debutant Devon Petersen, from South Africa, in tomorrow night’s opening session.
Nobody knows better than Van den Bergh, who stunned 2018 champion Gary Anderson in last year’s final, that first-timers can never be taken lightly.
He told The Gazette: “People say last year’s Matchplay must have been strange with no fans but it wasn’t so strange for me because it was the first time I’d qualified.
“I was very proud to be in the tournament and I took the situation as I found it. That’s my best win so far.
“I am looking forward to playing at the Winter Gardens. I have heard a lot of great things and a lot of the players say it is their favourite event but I have been so busy preparing for the tournament that I have not really thought about the venue.
“I might have played Devon before but I honestly can’t remember – but I never underestimate anybody and I won’t underestimate Devon.”
The Winter Gardens may be new to the world number eight from Antwerp but Blackpool is not and has left a lasting impression.
“I visited Blackpool eight years ago for a festival of youth darts at Blackpool Tower,” he recalls.
“I was with a bunch of Belgian players on a big bus and we really enjoyed it.
“I remember walking around Blackpool and going on the Valhalla ride at the Pleasure Beach. It was an important time for me because that’s when I met the manager who I still have now.”
Dimitri describes last year’s World Matchplay triumph as “another step up in my career”. He finished fifth on his Premier League bow this year as those steps forward continue ... away from the oche as well as on it.
He explained: “When the pandemic started I was stuck in this country for five months last year. I learned a lot about myself and learned I can stay here and be away from my family.
“From March until June I stayed with (former world champion) Peter Wright and his family and had a great time. I turned into a little son of theirs. They took care of me and I felt safe.”
Now living in Leicester and again house-sharing with a fellow professional – Australian Damon Heta, another World Matchplay debutant this year – Dimitri plans to be based on these shores for a while yet.
He added: “My girlfriend Evi and I are expecting a baby in December and our plan is to stay here until he is old enough to go to school.”
Other than 16-time winner Phil Taylor, after whom the World Matchplay trophy is named, the only players ever to win the tournament in successive years are Rod Harrington and Michael van Gerwen.
Dimitri would love to join that exclusive group, especially now he is fully fit after starting the year playing in a knee brace.
He explains: “I had surgery on my knee ligaments in February. The injury happened two years ago, while I was playing football. It hadn’t healed as well as I thought and it snapped. But it has been cured really well and I’m completely fit now.
“The plan was to have a barbecue on Thursday evening, then travel to Blackpool on Friday, practice a little to loosen my arm but try to relax as much as I can before my match.”
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